In the Summer of 2002, I was invited by my friend and colleague Dr. Carlos Rodriguez to participate in a reconnaissance flight of the Rio Meta, in eastern Colombia, where his consulting firm was performing hydrologic and hydraulic studies.

The morning of the flight, our study team assembled at the airport in Villavicencio and proceeded to board the plane, a single-engine Cessna. About two hours into the flight, we had to abort the mission because suddenly the sky became overcast, making it virtually impossible for us to see the ground. The pilot proceeded to make a U-turn and we headed back, disappointed but promising to return at some other time.

As we got off the plane, we were detained by airport security for questioning. They told us that we had circled above a Colombian navy base on the river and demanded an explanation.

It took us a while to explain to them that our objective was civilian reconnaissance, that we were unaware of the base's existence, and that our pilot's U-turn, precisely in the airspace above the base, was merely an unfortunate coincidence.


The Rio Meta, in the department of Meta, eastern Colombia.

The Rio Meta, in the department of Meta, eastern Colombia.